- The fisher cat, or fisher, is an elusive carnivorous mammal, which is not a cat and isn’t particularly fond of fish.
- Populations thinned by trapping and deforestation have been bolstered in the US by species reintroduction and protection.
- Shy, elusive and fast moving, the fisher is also brave. One will even take down a porcupine.
The arrival of spring has brought the sighting of a curious carnivore: the fisher cat.
A dark brown-furred mammal, the fisher cat has a name that is a misnomer. It doesn’t typically eat fish, unless it may come across a dead one lying next to a body of water.
Nor is it related to cats. The fisher cat is a member of the weasel family and is most closely related to a mink or a marten.
Shy, fast and elusive, the fisher cat is known to inhabit US forested areas of the Northeast and Northwest, and has recently begun showing its face in New England, especially in Vermont.
The animal is also known simply as the fisher, a name it got because it resembled the European polecat which was sometimes called the fichet or fitche, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.
The Vermont Institute of Natural Science caught a fisher on camera on its Farrar Trail in the central part of the state on March 15. The creature seemed to be downing an easy meal.
Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts recently shared on Twitter what fresh fisher tracks look like.
Fisher may be seen during the day or night as their hunting times vary. Females tend to keep a territory of three to eight square miles and males six to 15 square miles, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. However, the males may travel 20 miles a day for food or during mating season.
What is a fisher cat?
Forest dwellers, fisher are about the size and weight of larger house cats, weighing less than 4 pounds to more than 12 pounds. Males can weigh twice as much as females and are longer at 35-47 inches long, according to Defenders of Wildlife, which has worked to protect and reintroduce the animal.
They have short rounded ears, white patches on their chests and short legs. Their bodies are low to the ground, and they move with a bounding gait, a furry tail of up to 15 inches long bouncing behind them.
Fisher may be most active now because March through April is breeding season. In March, a litter of up to four kits could be nestled in a tree cavity den, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department says.
Where are they located in the US?
Fisher live as far north and west as southeastern Alaska, British Columbia and the Sierra Nevada in California, and in eastern Canada, according to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
Other states with fishers:
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
In Massachusetts, the fisher cat is the second-largest member of the weasel family found in Massachusetts, after the North American River Otter, according to Mass Audubon.
The Mystic River Watershed Association, just northwest of downtown Boston, posted pictures of a fisher earlier this month on Twitter.
Fisher populations were thinned through most of the 19th and 20th century by trappers who sought their pelts and from habitat loss as forests were cleared for building. There have been efforts to reintroduce the fisher in many states including Idaho, Montana, Rhode Island and Washington.
The fisher is listed as an endangered species in some parts of the country including Washington and the Sierra Nevada.
In Vermont, where the fisher population has rebounded, there is still a heavily regulated trapping season each year, from Dec. 1 through 31. Connecticut, which began introducing the fisher in 1988, has a trapping season, too.
Laken Ganoe, a researcher at the University of Rhode Island, traps and tags fisher cats as part of a collaborative project with the state Department of Environmental Management and has posted on Twitter some videos of ones she has released recently. Overall, they have tagged 18 fishers, she tweeted.
What do they eat?
Fisher cats may look soft and cuddly, but are smart and efficient carnivores – they can even take on porcupines.
The fisher is known to climb a tree occupied by a porcupine and force it out on the edge of a branch until the porcupine falls off, becoming stunned as it hits the ground, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. The fisher then strikes at its unprotected face, first.
Do fisher cats eat cats?
They will, but studies have found they rarely eat domestic cats,Vermont’s wildlife department says. Still, cat owners may want to limit their pet’s outdoor time, especially during the late evening and early dawn hours of spring and fall when fisher are most active. That’s also a good time to catch fisher on camera.
Fisher are also known to prey on chickens and small dogs, Mass Audobon says, so small dogs should also be kept indoors as much as possible and, chickens should be in a secure coop or barn at night.
Why are they known as being savage?
The fisher has made a name for itself for being a vicious predator, akin to a wolverine, by attacking creatures sometimes larger than itself. But, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife says, it is often characterized as being more savage than it deserves and that it is an important part of Vermont’s ecosystem.
Do fisher cats really scream?
There have been reports on Twitter of people hearing what they describe as fisher cat screams.
But Mass Audubon suggests that those “loud, unearthly ‘screaming’ sounds that people have attributed to fishers” are actually a Red Fox.